The International Literature Festival Dublin

 I’m writing this post on my phone in The Lunchbox, Buncrana because my internet is down. Not a great start to a Monday when I’m buzzing to follow up on a few contacts that I made on Saturday at the ‘Date with an Agent’ event during The International Literature Festival Dublin.                               

Still, I want to mark the event by expressing my appreciation to Vanessa O’Loughlin of http://www.writing.ie for the opportunity to submit and ‘win’ a date with an agent. Vanessa also took time out to talk to me after an extremely busy day when she really should have been half way home for a well earned rest, so thank you Vanessa for your precious time.                               

About a month ago, it was exciting to receive an email from Vanessa with the good news that my writing was selected and I had managed to bag ‘a date with an agent.’ It was doubly exciting to learn that my dear writing friend, Christina Campbell had recieved the same email. Much to my delight, Christina’s work had been selected too! And so we made plans to travel to Dublin and enjoy the event.

Vanessa promised that the event would be a “unique opportunity for writers to sit down with an agent to discuss their book, getting top-level advice on anything that needs work, on the market and their own career.”         

The date with the agent did exactly what it said on the tin, so thanks to Sallyanne Sweeny of Malcahy Associates, and Vanessa for creating such an opportunity. My friend, Christina, was delighted to discuss her work with Clare Wallace from The Darly Anderson Agency. In addition to ‘the date with an agent’ there were an number of talks and discussions throughout the day on writing and getting published. 

We were advised on what agents were looking for, good writing, a compelling story and a unique voice. No surprises there. Vanessa stressed the importance of writers taking the time to develop their own voice along with a great story. She told potential authors: “Just keep writing. It can take a lot longer than you think it might to get published, and it might be via a route that you didn’t at first expect, but you need to serve your apprenticeship and learn the craft. The more you write, the better you get.”                 

So I need to go write and hopefully by this evening my internet will be up and running again that will allow me to follow up on my newly established contacts. Well done to Vanessa and congratulations on another successful ‘Date With An Agent’ event. And thanks to the Lunchbox and Teresa who served me a lovely lunch while I typed with one finger, and Mary for her friendly welcome as always. 

The 2015 International Literature Festival Dublin offers a cracking line-up of writers, editors and agents, running from Saturday 16 – Sunday 24 May.

A WALK, A READ AND A WISH.

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First Published in The Inishowen Independent March 2013

The weather is not exactly encouraging me to keep up my morning walk lately but once I’ve talked myself into my coat and walking boots, and pull the front door after me the weather becomes irrelevant. Besides, I have something else to entice me since the Free Wee Libraries popped up in Swan Park and surrounding areas, my love for reading with a dollop of curiosity on the side.

The little libraries are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and hard to pass by.  It’s always interesting to see the different books left in the wee library I’m challenging myself to read different types of books at the moment so what better way than to find a random book on my morning walk and share one of my own. So I was vexed to learn that the harsh weather had no mercy on a couple of the wee libraries that now need a little make over.

The Free Wee Library in Inishowen is the brain child of Geraldine Timlin, award winning artist and lifelong book lover.Geraldine learned about the simple concept that has gained momentum in different parts of America and Europe and wanted to share it with the community. Her love for books and culture compelled her to establish free book nooks in our corner of the world to cultivate community and boost literacy in the great outdoors. These itty-bitty libraries bring readers to books and books to readers making reading accessible and fun!

Five of these tiny wooden libraries, built by volunteers and placed along County Donegal’s coast, are the start of something new to promote literacy for adults and children. The brilliant book-sharing scheme runs on an honesty policy … Take a book. Return a book. A tiny but mighty community builder. How charming is that?

Obviously, Geraldine cannot do enough to share her love of books and the urgent need for a growth in literacy. It’s no secret; we live in a digital age. Our reliance on computers and smart phones has changed the way we interact with the world. Yet a little wooden box full of books has captured the imagination of young and old alike and is creating a sense of community and also a desire to be part of something positive.

The tiny libraries are monitored by volunteers and each library will change its collection several times a month. Geraldine’s wish is that it continues to grow and develop with people who value literacy and community. It’s certainly a great way to declutter your shelves and recycle books!

In late March FWL is organising a poetry competition for children and adults, in Irish and English. The winner will have their poem distributed throughout the Free Wee Libraries. The FWL project has been highly successful to date and plans are under way to expand the project throughout Inishowen. Geraldine is happy to hear from anyone who can donate books, particularly children’s books or help in volunteering in any way to keep the Free Wee Library project inspiring people to read and to share a love for walking and reading in the great outdoors! I hope the Free Wee Libraries that got battered by the storm are up and running again soon and open 365 days a year. It’s hard to beat a walk and a read in the many beautiful spots in Inishowen.

For further details contact freeweelibrary@gmail.com Follow at Free Wee Library Project on Facebook.

Details on the Free Wee Libraries Poetry Competition to follow…

 

 

 

 

 

BE STILL AND KNOW

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It’s quiet round here. The road is stretching out in front of me for miles, a silky black ribbon weaving its way through Coolcross and Binnon. In their purple navy attire they roll down towards me as I surmise their stature across the lakes on the mountain road.

I turn towards a quiet country lane and head up the hill. The trees, naked and spindly, are waiting patiently for their new Spring coats. It won’t be long. Before I left I noticed a few new shoots  in my battered back garden. Heedless of the recent storms, they must have slipped up some time last week through the  darkness unnoticed…until today. Sunday. Even the birds are quiet this morning.  Are they contemplating too?

Over short heather and grass I ramp on as the ground rises steeply towards the top of Coolcross. It is well worth it. The view is breath-taking. I find them all standing tall and resting in their Sunday morning splendour, Malin head and Glashedy island to the north, Slieve snacht to the south, Slievekeeragh, Raghtin More and Mamore Head to the south-west, Culdaff and Scotland to the north-east. 

Sunday.  It’s a good day for a hike to feed the soul.

The fruit of silence is prayer,
The fruit of prayer is faith,
The fruit of faith is love, and
The fruit of love is silence.

—Mother Teresa

REMEMBERING THE POET AND THE POETRY OF SEAMUS HEANEY.

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Seamus Heaney has died. The news reader made his announcement across the airwaves causing me to stall the car at a junction in Derry. The driver to the left of me looked like he was flapping a wasp away. Gripping the key I started the car again. Chugging off to the right I gestured an apology to the agitated driver who obviously wasn’t listening to the news. If he had of been, and even if he never read a poem in his life, he would have at least recognised the name and learnt of the untimely death of one of Ireland’s finest poets. My stalling was an overreaction surly, but the sheer familiarity of Heaney’s name left me feeling as though a close friend of mine had died.

I have the school curriculum to thank for introducing me to Heaney’s work and his simple rural upbringing that resonated so vibrantly with my own as I dilly dallied home from school through quiet country lanes picking blackberries and peering over hedgerows separating me from cows and freshly ploughed fields. For long enough Digging gave me a deep appreciation of my own father’s passion for working the land and farm routines.  Somehow I took his words to heart. 

Is that why I started reciting Mid-Term Break at the kitchen sink while preparing for dinner around the time the Nobel Laureate poet was being buried in his beloved Derry soil? The last line stuck in my throat as it had done before, over and over, when I was sixteen.

Little Missy wanted to know why I was sad so I told her about the poet, Seamus Heaney, who had a brother called Christopher. “Just like me?” she said. “Just like you,” I smiled back. “But why are your eyes wet Mummy?” she said as she leaned in to help me pick out a few potatoes for peeling. “Because he wrote a poem once about losing his brother and today they are together again.” “But that’s a happy story.” she said. “So it is,” I said, “…and did you know he also wrote a poem about peeling spuds with his mother?” Missy lifted an eyebrow, her eyes full of suspicion. “He did! I’ll find it for you later,” I said turning on the tap and reaching for a knife. She laughed then and ran out to the garden as tears ran down my face remembering Clearances, the poem Heaney wrote in memory of his mother and the gaping emptiness that it had conveyed.

I stood for a moment watching Missy join her other brother on the trampoline and marvelled all over again at Heaney’s ability to pluck a moment of time out of his world or the world of northern politics, or the underworld and record it in such an organic state that it would be relived and felt and understood again and again, time after time.

Those thoughts and reflections he dug with his pen will never die and a name like Seamus Heaney will never die either. Perhaps it was a natural reaction for me to be taken by surprise at the moment I learnt of his death because, as Paul Muldoon said at Heaney’s funeral, “he had the ability to sweep us all up in his arms,” and so a friend in kind did die but the poet Seamus Heaney and all his works will forever live on in the hearts and minds of men and women all over the world but for now the world is feeling his lost aptly described in Heaney’s own words…

The door was open and the house was dark

Wherefore I called his name, although I knew

The answer this time would be silence.

Seamus Heaney 1939-2013 RIP

Drawing Words, Writing Circles.

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I’ve been writing all day…in my head. I have been travelling too. I landed in Bologna with my head full of words. That’s okay. They will tumble out sooner or later and spill on to a white A4 sheet of paper to join the words already there. One sentence will become two, then three until I scribble and smudge them out again. Most words end up in the bin but some are rescued, a word or phase that sounds right and before I know it the words take over and write themselves. That’s the way with words.

Tomorrow I’ll jot down a few but tomorrow evening I will draw a circle because that’s what I do when I’m not writing words. It’s no ordinary circle. It’s a Mandala. Sometimes I fill my circle up with words. Sometimes it fills me up with images, symbols that speak to me.

I don’t feel I draw the Mandala. I feel it draws me. The one above was simply created with a stick on Lisfannon beach Inis Eoghain in all of a few minutes. It claimed my focus, my thought and quietened my mind. It’s such a simple way to meditate.

It’s not everyday I’m in Bologna drawing circles so I’m looking forward and will post back soon. In the meantime I’m grateful for simple things…arriving safe, welcoming smiles, a hot shower, a cozy bed and rain whisper in Bologna tonight.

A Real Humdinger Children’s Book Festival in Derry/Londonderry!

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Humdinger (noun)…a remarkable or extraordinary person or thing of its kind. And that’s exactly what I got when I attended the Humdinger Children’s Book Festival in Derry/Londonderry with Little Missy at the weekend. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Roddy Doyle who kicked off the festival on Thursday but all the other big names in children’s books were still around on Saturday and come hell or high water I was going! Not even the flu was going to stop me! I woke up on Saturday morning with a scratchy throat and yucky head cold but armed with all sort of remedies to make me feel better I arrived just before 9.30am at the Dog Ears Head Quarters for the Writing for Children’s Workshop. 

The festival brochure promised that Humdinger would inspire a love for reading for years to come, and there is no doubt about that as their programme showcased fun, family friendly and innovative events over three days in a number of venues across the city but ‘wanna be writers’ were definitely not left out. What a lineup!  Meg Rosoff, Alex T. Smith and Malachy Doyle among others, were proudly introduced by Laura of Dog Ears. 

My biggest challenge was trying to keep my nose clean and not cough too much but the morning was informal and full of magical inspiration. Creative therapist, Ursula McHugh from the Playhouse set the mood before highly acclaimed writer and multi award-winning author Meg Rosoff, whose books I have feasted on a few times, encouraged us to find our own unique writer’s voice. It was encouraging to learn that even Meg Rosoff can get ‘stuck’ sometimes. Writing is not always fun and flowing, more like drawing blood out of bad veins. Still, if you can find your unique voice there is a possibility that someone might just like it. So forget about being precious, send out your voice and keep writing and rewriting!

Up next was the very talented writer and illustrator Alex T Smith who was born to do what he is doing. He had brought along some of his earlier work and drawings and talked about how his grandparents influenced his choice of career and his stories. He likes to keep things simple while developing quirky ideas that make his books fun for both adults and children to read. Keeping it entertaining, Malachy Doyle read from his Too Noisy book and he encouraged us to keep writing, rewriting and rewriting as persistence is a key ingredient of success. AND he has written a ton of children’s books so he should know! Then it was our turn to perform or at least pretend to be Jamaican for a short while with the energetic and colourful creators of Rastamouse Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza who started off self publishing before Rastamouse became one of Cbeebies hit shows.

David Maybury, co-editor of Inis magazine and Freelance Editor at Penguin finished the workshop by providing an invaluable insight into the publishing industry but unfortunately I didn’t hear all he had to say as I was rushing off to meet up with Little Missy to go and see Julia Donaldson in The Millennium Forum. It was pure magic, reliving all the old favourites that I had read to my children one hundred zillion times including Zog, A Squash and a Squeeze, The Snail and the Whale and, of course, that fearful Gruffalo and friendly mouse was there too!

Dashing up to the Playhouse afterwards, we managed to see the Rastamouse team in action again followed by refreshments and a talk delivered by Derek Kielty, début author of Will Gallows. Derek shared some writing tips and exciting news as well. A while back, Elton John’s Rocket Pictures, which produced Gnomeo and Juliet, called him up and expressed an interest in adapting Will Gallows into a kid-friendly film. Exciting stuff! David also read from his first book in the series which he kindly gave to Little Missy after a little autograph session. We rushed home with empty bellies but my head wasn’t full of the cold so much as it was full of inspiration. After we got fed, I went upstairs to persist and rewrite for a while before retiring with a good read. When I peeked in to check on Sleeping Beauty this is what I found…

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 Little Missy, under the covers, laughing out loud…

Tonight she asked me if I would go on Amazon and order up the second book in the series as she is now half way through the first one. I’m beginning to wonder if the bookworms I am rearing think Amazon is some sort of genie lamp! But I shall keep granting their wishes if it keeps them turning pages and Humdinger obviously achieved what it set out to achieve – to inspire a love for reading!

Dog Ears wanted to do something amazing for UK City of Culture 2013 and they did it. They hosted one humdinger of a festival for children and adults alike. It felt like Fionnuala, Laura, Jackie, John and Trisha had moved New York and London a little closer to home and pulled out all the stops to give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet some best-loved authors and illustrators while providing endless possibilities to get crafty and creative in the many workshops on offer. Thank you to all at Dog Ears. Great job! Magical festival! Cheers Dog Ears!

If you want to find out more about Dog Ears or the Humdinger Children’s Book Festival check out www.cheersdogears.com